Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of the NOAA Coast Survey team? We use the Coast Survey spotlight blog series as a way to periodically share the experiences of Coast Survey employees as they discuss their work, background, and advice.
Kurt Mueller, physical scientist
“The hydrographic data we acquire and review adds to the scientific knowledge of the seafloor and is valuable to other agencies to simulate sea level effects on coasts, identify sensitive marine habitats, and select alternative energy sites, among many other uses.”
What is your job title, and how long have you worked for Coast Survey?
I am a physical scientist with the Hydrographic Surveys Division, and have worked for Coast Survey for eleven years. My first position was as a survey technician with navigation response team 3 working aboard a small survey vessel in Puget Sound and along the Oregon coast. I came over to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch in Seattle, WA, in 2010 and have been here ever since — except for a short stint of about 15 months at our sister office (the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch) in Norfolk, VA.
What were your experiences prior to working for Coast Survey?
I grew up in Olympia, WA, and after high school I worked about ten years in the tourism industry, spending summers in Alaska and winters in West Texas. I earned a bachelor of arts in history from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 2002 and a master of science in geographic information systems (GIS) from Arizona State University in 2010.
What is a day in your job like?
I review hydrographic survey project deliverables, run quality assurance checks on data, troubleshoot software issues, and work with other physical scientists, team leads, and our branch chief to improve our workflows and more efficiently move data through our office and toward compilation to the nautical chart. I also spend several weeks each year at sea acquiring and processing hydrographic data aboard one of our survey vessels.
Why is this work important?
My office is tasked with ensuring that hydrographic data coming from NOAA ships, as well as other data from external agencies, meets the rigid standards required to build an accurate and reliable nautical chart. This contributes directly to the Coast Survey mission to support safe maritime navigation. The hydrographic data we acquire and review also adds to the scientific knowledge of the seafloor and is valuable to other agencies to simulate sea level effects on coasts, identify sensitive marine habitats, and select alternative energy sites, among many other uses.
What aspects of your job are most exciting or rewarding to you?
The most rewarding aspect is working with a friendly, knowledgeable group of people each day who are devoted to their work and appreciate the mission of Coast Survey. Although our work can be repetitive at times, we will occasionally discover something fascinating in the data (a historic shipwreck, for example). I also appreciate the ‘aha’ moments when a complex data issue is resolved and the sense of accomplishment when new survey depths and contours are compiled to the nautical chart.
What advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career in your field?
I would recommend a college degree in a scientific discipline as well as experience working with geographic information systems. Pursuing internships to gain any related experience is also very beneficial. Last but certainly not least, enthusiasm, positivity, and a willingness to travel and work on boats!